Activists and Militants and Social Entrepreneurs…

From Todd Gitlin’s “Letters to a young activist” – when he’s not taking gratuitous and inaccurate pot shots (is there another kind) at Noam Chomsky, he’s actually worth reading…

By contrast, in this mainly antipolitical era, the label of choice is activist – and it’s poignant (though not altogether sad) that today were address recruits mainly one at a time, not as a movement. They don’t clump. I don’t remember hearing this ungainly word activist until the mid seventies. I had gone back to graduate school where I read through scholarly articles to see whether they made any sense of the whirlwind I had been through. There we were, an object of study: activists. I thought the term denatured, uncomprehending and evasive: a category label for the convenience of investigators. In the early New Left, we preferred organizer: someone who moves people into action and doesn’t just rouse them for a particular occasion, who doesn’t come and go but steadily works up strategies, focuses energies, and (crucially) settles in for the long haul. Europeans speak of militants, meaning more or less the reliables. Now people talk of social entrepreneurs – those who launch projects, construct organizations; these are social artists, in a sense, who create something new in the world.
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Below the surface...
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